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Religious Leaders Call for Prayer on Red-Shirt Crisis

BANGKOK, Thailand, April 16, 2010--Senior Buddhist, Christian and Muslim leaders have jointly expressed their concern over the political crisis gripping Thailand and called for prayers by both individuals and religious organizations.

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand invited Buddhist monk Venerable Thammakosajarn, Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit of Bangkok, and Imron Maluleem, vice chairperson of the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, to jointly express their views on the current crisis on April 15.

"Red-shirt" protesters, many of whom support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a military coup in 2006, have been demonstrating against the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for more than a month.

They are demanding the government immediately dissolve parliament and hold snap elections. Clashes between protesters and security forces on April 10 killed 24 people and injured more than 800.

Since then there has been a lull in the conflict but the situation remains tense amid signs that government forces may be preparing for a new crackdown.

Venerable Thammakosajarn, who represents the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, urged both sides to step back and consider the interests of the whole nation. Stressing on the need to forgive, he also urged all Thai people to be patient and respect differences of opinion, and be mindful of news or information they receive.

Imron said all parties must reassess their actions and put national interest first. He urged the protesters to respect the rule of law and stop acts of violence. The Muslim leader also said Thai society needs to build a new political culture.

Archbishop Kriengsak expressed his sadness over the lives lost and his sympathy for the families of victims. "We call on all members of society to try to work together to put a stop to the violence and press those involved in the political conflict to return to the negotiating table to seek proper solutions that benefit the people."

The three religious leaders then called on all their followers to individually pray for peace for a few minutes at 6pm each day.

Archbishop Kriengsak later told UCA News that the three religions have agreed to start joint prayers for peace soon. "The act of praying together expresses our stand for a peaceful society. We don't want any violence in our country," the Catholic leader said.

According to Amara Pongsapich, chairperson of National Human Rights Commission, the body is to set up an independent committee to investigate human rights violations during the April 10 clashes.

Meanwhile, red-shirt protesters have consolidated their forces at Ratchprasong intersection, which lies in the high-end business and shopping district.

Businesses in the area are closed, as is the Mater Dei School run by Ursuline sisters just 200 meters from the intersection.

School manager Sister Kanya Kuwinphan told UCA News: "The red shirts move about and sleep in front of our school. Violence can be break out any time." She said the school is currently closed for the summer holiday and is scheduled to open on April 19, but "if violence breaks out, we will close the school immediately." (UCAN)